So where do we go from here?
Eight weeks ago, we started this journey of the 12-Minute Prayer Challenge. Why this specific amount of time? Because research shows that twelve minutes of daily focused prayer over eight weeks can change the brain to such an extent that it can be measured on a brain scan. So did it work? Unless you happen to have taken a brain scan at the outset and plan to do so again today, I doubt any of us can say for certain whether our brains have literally changed. But hopefully your heart has been changed as you’ve committed to pray over these past eight weeks. Maybe you missed a few days here and there along the way. That’s okay. The point of this isn’t to shame you if you skipped or skimped on your prayer time. I know it was a challenge even for me, since we took a ten-day vacation in the middle of the prayer challenge and hosted two sets of guests as well. I had to get creative both about writing the prayers and finding time to pray them on the appointed days.
Perhaps you’ve established something of a prayer routine by now and desire to keep it going. I hope that’s the case. Prayer is so powerful and yet so mysterious. We sometimes see dramatic results, but other times we don’t see results at all. Maybe we get discouraged and are tempted to give up. Why bother, if God isn’t answering anyhow? But that’s exactly what the devil wants from us. He knows the power of prayer and wants to discourage us from tapping into that power. Don’t let him win that battle! Prayer is a spiritual discipline; the word discipline here meaning “to train or develop by instruction and exercise especially in self-control.” We have to train ourselves to set aside time for prayer, exercising self-control when our minds wander or when other things threaten to push aside our prayer time.
In the Old Testament prophet Samuel’s farewell address to the nation of Israel, one comment in particular stands out to me. “Moreover, as for me,” he tells them, “far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23).
Not praying is a sin.
That hits home for me, because I can think of any number of occasions when I’ve told someone I’d pray for them only to fire off a quick and insincere, “Lord, bless them” prayer. I know there have been days (weeks, months…) when I’ve fallen out of any semblance of prayer routine other than praying before meals and at church. But the good news is that this is easily reversible. God will not refuse to hear our prayers if we haven’t prayed in a while. He is always ready and willing to answer them, in His way and in His time.
If you’d like to keep up a regular prayer schedule but aren’t sure exactly how to go about it, there are a number of options. I did prayer journaling for a while, listing thanksgiving on one page, confession on another, and separate pages of requests for each of my family members and friends. Or you can pray through the Catechism (which is what we did over the past week, focusing on a different petition of the Lord’s Prayer each day). One excellent resource for this is the book Praying Luther’s Small Catechism by John T. Pless. There are also other books with written prayers for many occasions that are helpful in keeping your prayers focused, such as Concordia Publishing House’s Lutheran Prayer Companion and Lutheran Book of Prayer. If these resources help keep you accountable, please use them. You can even go back over the 12-Minute Prayer Challenge day by day if you’d like. Whatever you decide, by all means, continue to pray.
Recall Martin Luther’s words from his explanation to the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism: “What has stopped or quelled the counsels, purposes, murder, and riot of our enemies, by which the devil thought he would crush us, together with the Gospel? It was the prayer of a few godly people standing in the middle like an iron wall for our side.” Let’s be those few godly people, standing like an iron wall for the sake of the Gospel. We just might change the course of history.